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By Aaron Gray-Block and Suzan Yucel
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Two Congolese militiamen were the top commanders of forces that raped, killed and looted civilians in a brutal attack that left 200 dead, a war crimes prosecutor said Tuesday.
Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui went on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of directing a February 2003 attack on a village in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as rival groups fought for control of the region's gold, diamonds and oil.
"Some were shot dead in their sleep, some cut up by machetes to save bullets. Others were burnt alive after their houses were set on fire by the attackers," Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said, adding others were shot as they fled.
Katanga, 31, an ethnic Ngiti, is said to have commanded the Patriotic Resistance Force (FRPI). Ngudjolo, 39, a Lendu, is accused of being the former leader of the National Integrationist Front (FNI).
Both men are charged with seven counts of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity, including murder, sexual slavery, rape, using child soldiers and pillaging.
Both men pleaded not guilty to all charges.
"I have said since I arrived here that I am not guilty. I still continue to plead not guilty," Katanga said, speaking through an interpreter.
The two defence teams will give their opening statements later Tuesday.
"EASY PREY"
Moreno-Ocampo said both the FRPI and FNI were in conflict with the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), mostly of Hema ethnicity, and attacked the village of Bogoro to open up a road link and prevent UPC attacks against Ngiti and Lendu targets.
He said hundreds of women, men and children attacked the village in the morning with automatic weapons, machetes and spears and did not distinguish between soldiers and civilians.
Villagers were "easy prey" as they sought refuge at a UPC camp in the village, he added.
Prosecutors say forces commanded by Katanga and Ngudjolo had encircled the village from the north and south, having jointly planned to have their forces meet in the centre of the village.
"Victims lost everything," said Fidel Nsita Luvengika, one of two legal representatives defending the interests of 345 court-recognized victims, having said Monday that "some do not even know where their children were buried."
He said the trial will help them to overcome their trauma and mourning, to establish truth and "to finish impunity."
Victims may participate in the trial by expressing their views and concerns if it is done in a way consistent with the principle of a fair trial. They can also seek compensation.
Tuesday's trial is the ICC's second trial and the first involving charges of murder after the court's debut case focussed on charges alleged Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga enlisted and conscripted child soldiers to the military wing of his UPC.
Prosecutors will call 26 witnesses, 21 of whom are protected witnesses. The trial is expected to take several months.
(Editing by Diana Abdallah)

Reuters